Juvenile Detention Center

Hola! This is Dot, Brian, and Elena reporting from San José, Costa Rica. This week we had the opportunity to take a tour of the largest juvenile detention center in Costa Rica and learn more about the Costa Rican justice system. The center houses over 200 inmates, nearly all of which are male. Although it is a juvenile facility, minors who turn 18 during their sentence are permitted to finish out their term at the center. Therefore, this center is home to 12 year old inmates as well as some in their late 20s. Our guide described some of the challenges posed by having such a wide range of ages in one facility. Not only are there different living quarters for minors and adults, but they also make an effort to keep them separate during most daily activities. She informed us that they are hoping that the law will be revised soon, as it is very difficult to meet the educational, medical, and psychological needs of such a wide range of ages.

Another interesting fact that we learned about the Costa Rican justice system is that, unlike in the United States, there is no such thing as a “life sentence” in Costa Rica. The maximum sentence for any crime committed by an adult is 50 years in prison, and the maximum sentence for any crime committed by a minor is 15 years in prison. We were somewhat surprised to hear that the two most common crimes that had landed juveniles in the detention center were robbery and homicide. However, our guide explained to us that because the maximum penalty is so much less severe for minors, it is not uncommon for children to be paid by adults to commit homicides.

For inmates who choose to take advantage of the educational opportunities within the juvenile facility, the education center offers classes at the level of primary school, secondary school, and college level courses. In addition, they offer extracurricular classes such as hip hop and art classes. Although there are many programs offered while inmates are living in the center, there is no government program for reintegration into the community after the juveniles are released, despite the fact that many of the children who are incarcerated were living on the street prior to their conviction.

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